So, you want to improve your reading and writing in Dutch? Lucky for you, it’s not incredibly difficult to learn the Dutch language, especially when you have a good English vocabulary. Like English, Dutch belongs to the Indo European family and is a Germanic language. Dutch and English are therefore influenced by the same language group, which makes studying a new language easier.
Whether you want to learn Dutch to get the best out of your trip to the low countries (Dutch is spoken in two of them: Belgium and Holland; the Belgian language Flemish is considered a Dutch dialect), to study for a Dutch exam, to improve your written language skills in Dutch or impress someone in a conversation, or you are simply interested in the Dutch language and culture, we’ve got you covered!
There are, as is the case while learning languages, some pitfalls when it comes to Dutch grammar and spelling. By learning how to avoid these, you can impress your fellow expats and other Dutch learners with your language skills. Because unfortunately the below mentioned mistakes are not made by Dutch beginners, but even by fluent and native Dutch speakers.
Because there are not that many people studying Dutch, Dutch citizens often highly appreciate the efforts of those who do. However, Dutch people are known to be quite direct (let’s just say it’s part of Dutch culture) and so it might happen that they actually correct your mistakes, which I have noticed for English speakers is relatively unusual.
When someone does correct your linguistic abilities, it’s probably coming from a good place. And if a Dutch person makes fun of you while you communicate in their language, just remember that there are several books and websites dedicated to the Dutch’s poor use of English. They are infamous for literally translating phrases and expressions from Dutch into English (just google ‘’Dunglish’’).
Spot the Dunglish. Photo via visualhunt.com.
Dutch grammar is quite easy compared to the grammar of other European languages (not to hate on German, but… ugh). Take Dutch verb conjugation: when using the pronoun he, she or it in the present tense, a ‘’t’’ must be added behind the base infinitive. Sounds quite easy, right?
Still, one of the most common mistakes made is of a grammatical nature. The ‘’+t’’ rule can get complicated when the base infinitive ends with a ‘d’, so that there is no difference in spoken language when a ‘t’ is added. Example: ‘’hij wordt’’ is pronounced the same as ‘’ik word’’ (‘’he becomes’’ and ‘’I become’’).
When you pronounce ‘’wordt’’, it’s not audible that a ‘’t’’ is added. This can be confusing to any Dutch learner. But I will introduce you to a simple trick that I used to use whenever I taught Dutch grammar for beginners.
Instead of using a base infinitive that already has the ‘’d’’/’’t’’ sound at the end, you can replace it with a different infinitive, such as ‘’loop’’ (the base infinitive of ‘’lopen’’ – walking). Now your task has become much easier: ‘’hij loopt’’, so ‘’hij wordt’’.
Another rule that will help you avoid this mistake is that a ‘’t’’ is only added in the present tense and a ‘’d’’ is added in the past and perfect tense. So for example: ‘’het gebeurt’’ (it is happening) and ‘’het is gebeurd’’ (it has happened).
There are exceptions to this rule, like when ‘’je’’ or ‘’jij’’ are placed behind the finite verb. In this case, the ‘’t’’ disappears: ‘’loop jij’’ (do you walk) or ‘’word jij’’ (do you become). This might be a bit overwhelming for a Dutch beginner, but if you want more instructions on Dutch grammar rules and how to conjugate verbs, you can check out onzetaal.nl.
In the Dutch alphabet, there are a few (combined) vowels and consonants that sound similar or, in some cases, exactly the same. For example, ‘’ei’’ and ‘’ij’’ and ‘’ch’’ and ‘’g’’ are phonetically the same, but cannot be used interchangeably.
The consonant ‘’s’’ can sound similar to ‘’z’’ depending on the word in which they’re used, and ‘’i’’ and ‘’ie’’ are phonetically the same when used independently, but can have a different pronunciation when used in a word.
Pictured is an ‘’ei’’, which can only be correctly spelled using ’’ei’’ and not ‘’ij’’. Photo via Visualhunt.com.
There are rules to determine which vowels to use when however these rules have exceptions. My best tip would be to check a Dutch dictionary or woordenlijst.org, which will show you a list of correct spellings and conjugations of a word. Thank God for the internet!
‘’U’’ is the formal version of ‘’jij’’. You could say it is the Dutch equivalent of ‘’You’’. Back in the day, ‘’u’’ used to be written with a capital letter. But times have changed and the capital ‘’U’’ is now considered wrong in most cases, except when you’re addressing someone like God or9 the king. But even then it’s more of a personal choice than a must.
Nowadays we really only use ‘’u’’ without a capital letter. But if you do accidentally address someone with ‘’U’’ in a conversational setting, the Dutch will probably let you off the hook. Or feel very honored that you’re addressing them like you would a God. So just see it as a learning experience!
Now these are people you could address with ‘’U’’ if you wanted to. Photo via visualhunt.com.
One thing you’ll notice when you learn to speak Dutch is that we like merging words together. There is no limit to the number of words that can be added together, which has led to long lists of beautiful creations. However, the merged word should still make sense, of course. For more information and some examples check correctnederlands.nl.
These are some long merged words that are used quite regularly: ‘’chronischevermoeidheidssyndroom’’, ‘’geneesmiddelenvergoedingssysteem’’, ‘’meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis’’ and ‘’hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliofobie’’ (which is the phobia of long words and is actually almost the same in English).
When Dutch is not your native language, it can be confusing to recognize whether words should be written together or apart. A good rule for any Dutch beginner to remember is that Dutch words are written together as much as possible.
Dutch is not the first language to introduce the use of capital letters when writing geographic names. Still, this is often neglected. Luckily, English has the same rule, so this one might be one of the easier ones for you.
Countries, regions, cities, but also mountains, rivers, deserts, and celestial bodies should all be capitalized. Words that are derived from geographic names, like Dutch or English, should be too. However, in non-scientific texts, the sun, the moon, and the earth are not capitalized.
Something that goes wrong often is the spelling of adjectives, specifically those adjectives that are derived from a verb. There are a few adjectives that, in Dutch pronunciation, sound exactly the same as the past tense of the verb they are derived from.
An example: ‘’begrote’’ and ‘’begrootte’’. Where the first implies that something has been budgeted, the second implies that someone has made a budget. Both are correct and sound the same but have a different meaning.
To know which spelling to use when remember this: adjectives are always spelled using the shortest spelling possible. So, in this case, it would be ‘’begrote’’, not ‘’begrootte’’.
So what is it, ‘’andere’’ or ‘’anderen’’ (both mean others)? Well, the answer is that both are correct. You just have to know when to add the ‘’n’’ and when not to. And how are you supposed to know this, you ask? Well, it’s actually easier than it sounds, once you get the basic rule.
When ‘’andere’’ refers to people, the ‘’n’’ should be added at the end. So, when referring to other people, you should use ‘’anderen’’. When ‘’andere’’ refers to objects, however, you should skip the ‘’n’’ at the end and just leave it at ‘’andere’’.
But there is one catch: this only counts when ‘’andere’’ is used independently, meaning when it’s not directly followed by a noun or could be supplemented by any of the nouns from the same or the previous sentence. So, let’s try to make this a bit easier: when the other people you are referring to are named in the sentence, just stick to ‘’andere’’ without adding the final ‘’n’’.
There are ‘’andere mensen’’ in your swimming pool. Photo via visualhunt.com.
To really break this down, let’s use an example. You booked a private villa in Aruba or Suriname (your choice) and are very excited to jump in the pool at sunset. However, when you go outside, you notice that there are other people using the pool.
In Dutch, you could now either say: ‘’er zijn andere mensen in het zwembad!’’ or ‘’er zijn anderen in het zwembad!” Can you recognize why the first sentence uses ‘’andere’’, and the second one uses ‘’anderen’’?
This is a painful one for me, I must say. I would never judge anyone writing in a foreign language for making this mistake because when you’re not a native speaker this is quite tricky. But when Dutch is your mother tongue there is really no excuse, and still, the mistake is made way too often.
When you use ‘’jou’’ to refer to a person, you shouldn’t add the ‘’w’’ at the end. When you refer to someone’s property, however, you should use ‘’jouw’’. So it’s ‘’ik hou van jou’’ (I love you), and ‘’ik hou van jouw kat’’ (I love your cat).
Seems easy enough, right? What makes this challenging, is that ‘’jou’’ and ‘’jouw’’ sound the same in Dutch pronunciation. Which in a way is good news for you, because it means you won’t make this mistake while speaking to someone. And when you’re writing an important letter, remember the property rule and check onzetaal.nl for a more elaborate explanation.
As you may have noticed in the first section of this article, Dutch verb conjugation can be confusing. As with conjugating verbs in the present tense, the biggest struggle in the perfect tense is knowing when to use a ”d” and when to use a ”t” in the past participle. The trick I always use is to look at the past tense of the verb: if a ”t” is used in the past tense, so ”ik werkte”, a ”t” is also used in the past participle: ”ik heb gewerkt”.
The same goes for when a ”d” is used in the past tense. If it’s ”het regende”, a ”d” is also used for the perfect tense: ”het heeft geregend”. However, this might be easy enough when you’re from the Netherlands or grew up with the Dutch language, but as a foreigner, this will be a more ‘tricky trick’.
But fear not, even when you’re not a Dutchman or woman there is a trick for you: the Dutch have designed ”t kofschip”. The main rule is that when the consonants in ‘t kofschip, so t, k, f, s, c, h, and p, are placed before ”en” in the complete form of the verb, the past and present tense of this verb will be written with a ”t”. Verbs that use any of the other consonants or vowels before ”en” in their complete form are written with a ”d” in the past or perfect tense.
But, of course, there are some verbs that want to make your life just a little bit harder, such as the ones that use ”v” or ”z” in their complete form, but ”f” and ”s” when used with ”I” or ”he, she, it”. In these cases, the complete form of the verb is always the one that’s looked at. To get a better understanding of the rules on ”t kofschip” and some examples, check beterspellen.nl.
Having only a few definite articles to go in front of nouns always makes learning a language easier. Well, good news! The Dutch language only has two definite articles: ”de” and ”het”. Still, something that has proven to be quite hard to grasp when you’re not native to the Dutch language is which nouns to use ”de” with, and with which you should use ”het”.
And I can understand why, because to be frank, there aren’t many reliable rules on the use of ”de” and ”het”, it’s more of a ”you know when you know” kind of thing. Even when Dutch is your first or second language this might still go wrong, because you just have to have an ear for it.
Generally speaking, ”de” is used for male and female nouns and nouns in their plural form, and ”het” for neutral nouns. Some words can be both male and female (the Dutch have always been known for their progressiveness, right?), but luckily in both cases ”de” is used. However, in order to use this to your advantage, you would have to look up if a noun is neutral or not, which would probably take you more time than just to look up if the particular noun uses ”de” or ”het”.
”De Noordzee” (the North Sea) uses ”de” but has no specified gender according to the Van Dale dictionary. Photo via visualhunt.com.
So I guess the bad news here is that there is no quick solution other than just keeping your phone close to you at all times when speaking or writing Dutch, and typing the noun + ”de of het” into google before you use it. And maybe you can memorize some of the most common words. For some more guidelines on the use of ”de” and ”het” you can check onzetaal.nl.
Oh yes, the ”d” or ”t” struggle continues! And also, this is the return of ”t kofschip”. For many Dutch verbs, ”te” or ”de” is added in the past tense (or, in plural form, ”ten” or ”den”). But, when is ”te”, and when is ”de” used? Again we look at the letter that goes in front of ”en” in the complete form of the verb. If it’s a consonant used in ”t kofschip‘‘, ”te” will be added in the past tense. When it’s any other letter, ”de” must be added.
So for example, the complete form of a verb is ”stoten” (bumping), so in the past tense, it’s ”stootte”, or ”stootten” in the plural form (bumped). Or, the complete form is ”branden” (burning), so in the past tense it’s ”brandde”, or ”brandden” (burned). Notice that when the ”d” or ”t” is already present in the verb, the extra ”d” or ”t” is still added in the past tense!
But be careful with this, because there are exceptions to the rule and there are also verbs that don’t use ”de” or ”te” at all in the past tense, so always check if you’re not sure. For a more detailed explanation in Dutch, visit beterspellen.nl.